In the 30 years since the devastating nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, the entire area has undergone a radical change and a slow, continual process of rebirth. If the reactor is stably closed inside the concrete sarcophagus that prevent the radiation from spreading outside, across the Exclusion Zone, which stretches 30 kilometers in all directions around the power plant, nature has begun to reclaim what humans destroyed.
The accident had a major impact on the human population. Estimates of the number of human fatalities vary a lot, and also the initial impact on the environment was also important. One of the areas more heavily affected by the radiation was the pine forest near the plant, known since then as the “Red Forest”. This area received the highest doses of radiation, the pine trees died instantly and all the leaves turned red. Few animals survived the highest radiation levels. If prior to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, about 120,000 people lived between the towns of Chernobyl and Pripyat, today the inhabitants are a few dozen, who refuse to leave their homeland.
Even if the disaster released radiation levels 400 times that of the Hiroshima bombing, and it remains the largest nuclear accident in history, flora and fauna have begun to thrive over time and a research of 2015 released information showing that there are likely more animals present on the site now than prior to the disaster.
In fact, elk, deer, fox, wolves, and many more species now rare all over Europe have found a home in the area of alienation, taking advantage of human absence. Among these is also the Przewalski‘s horse, now extinct in the areas of the former Soviet Union, and European lynx, which were thought to have disappeared from the area.
While visits and guided tours to Chernobyl aren’t new, since december 2018 eco-tours are offer to explore the particular area. APB-Birdlife Belarus is the country’s largest private conservation organization, which has begun leading these special guided experiences. Participants are led through the “Палескі дзяржаўны радыяцыйна-экалагічны запаведнік – Palieski Radioecological Reserve”, which is the name for the Belarus side of the Exclusion zone.
Today the reserve, which is described as Europe’s largest experiment in rewilding, is home to nearly 70% of the country’s bird species, as well as an abundance of wolves, boar, and bears. “Imagine empty villages ‘swallowed’ by vegetation and occupied by new wild residents, abundant forests, lush grass, myriad flourishing species and a real chance to meet Elk or Wolf on your way,” writes the organization.
As explained by the organization, the tours are reinvests all profits back into local wildlife conservation, making this form of new ecotourism absolutely noble.
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